Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Molly Burch’s First Flower.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news cycle for the past few weeks — or ya know, forever — there’s no “good” or “easy” way for a woman to assert or express herself. While the impossible trap of female assertion is increasingly “buzz-worthy” as of late, it’s a lesson most women remember having to learn over and over since childhood. To be heard, we’re expected to take on what are considered to be “masculine qualities,” to speak up and speak loudly, and even when we do that, we risk being called a bitch — or worse, we risk invalidation, not being trusted or believed. “To The Boys,” a track off Molly Burch’s new sophomore album First Flower rang through my home with erie resonance over the weekend. She describes herself, a “natural blusher” with a quiet voice who wears her fear on her face, someone who’s “not what you want her to be,” but begs to be listened to: “I don’t need to yell to know that I’m the boss / That is my choice / And this is my voice / You can tell that to the boys.”
Burch’s nostalgic and romantic sounds on First Flower aren’t exactly what you’d expect to package such relevant, nuanced, modern pop songs. Raised in L.A. by parents in the entertainment industry and a collegiately trained jazz vocalist, her songwriting and sound itself harkens back to old Hollywood glamour and iconic romantics like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone or Tammy Wynette. Combined with warm, minimal jazz-infused guitar backings from her musical and romantic partner Dailey Toliver and smokey, muted percussion, First Flower often makes it seem as though Molly Burch is a moody late-1940s or '50s songstress standing under the bright spotlight of a dimly lit basement club. But her tracks are far from reductive or stuck in the past.
In fact, as evidenced by her her 2017 debut Please Be Mine and reaffirmed by First Flower, Burch is a member of a wave of indie rockers like Julia Jacklin or Angel Olsen recontextualizing glamour, romance and nostalgia into the modern day. Millennials (forgive me) are not known for romance. Healthy skepticism and constant dismantling of tradition and the status quo is a defining quality of our generation, and for good reason, but it’s one that often leaves little space for the romantic. In fact, while challenging archaic notions of what love and all its trappings are supposed to look like is a vital and organic part of progress, cynicism, at times, feels rampant. In light of this generational thought, Burch, and artists like her, feel like a breath of fresh air and sound like optimism.
The content itself of First Flower is far from lyrically romantic; Burch said that the majority of songs weren’t written about romantic relationsips in an interview with the Austin Chronicle. The album does save room for one kissing-slowly-in-a-field level, classically romantic tune, a love song in its purest form: the gorgeous title track “First Flower” that succinctly embodies what it feels like when someone turns you into complete and utter goo every time they so much as enter your mind. But aside from that, most of it grapples with battling internal struggles: insecurities, anxieties and feeling like you’re not living up to what you think you should be.
On “Wild,” she sings about watching another more uninhibited woman and longing to be less guarded. And Burch explained the albums opener “Candy” — a song that reads like ruminations on a failed relationship — is actually addressing “self doubt and creative anxieties” inside herself, instead of a former lover. “Anxiety can be so addictive — the cycle of it, the relief after you’ve spent time worrying about something that turns out fine. I felt like writing about all of this because it’s a significant part of my waking life, but all wrapped up in a sweet pop song,” she said via a press release from her label, Captured Tracks. But as much as the album is a confession of insecurities, it does, in many ways, feel like a conquering, or at least acceptance, of them. On "Good Behavior," she sings, “Let’s all just try and be our best.” And as First Flower expresses, asserts and exists — stunning in its raw anxiety — the best we can do is listen.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.